Virtual Volunteers: Crowdsourcing Transcriptions

In fall 2018, the Library of Congress announced its initiative “By the People,” a crowdsourcing initiative named after the closing line in the Gettysburg Address. This initiative allows virtual volunteers to engage directly with the Library of Congress’s archives in a fresh, meaningful, and interactive way.

Users, new and old, are encouraged to try their hand at transcribing, tagging, and reviewing documents in the LOC’s predetermined “campaigns.” Each campaign is thematic, whether it focuses on a certain person or event, and they allow users to find their niche and stay engaged. The twelve campaigns are very expansive and need our help! Follow me along as I learn how to interact with this website, so the LOC can be accessible to all!

Above is the landing page of the website, which houses the By the People initiative. On this page, users can get an idea of the different ongoing projects, and learn more about how they can help. Although there are options to login and register, the LOC doesn’t require users to make an account to volunteer. Regardless, I will be doing so, as it opens up more ways to interact with the site.

After making an account (which I think we all know how to do), I was brought back to the landing page, where the LOC promoted some ongoing projects that need my help. I decided to work on the Alan Lomax Collection, as I have long been inspired by his work. Thanks to the By the People initiative, I am able to interact with Alan Lomax’s incredible work directly, while making it more accessible for future historians, folklorists, fans…students…etc. You can see that this page is in progress and they need MY help completing it. Well alright, LOC, I’ll help ya – and I’ll even do it using your new interface, which you can see below!

To be honest…this document was already completely transcribed when I opened it up. I am assuming this means somebody finished without hitting submit for review, which is a side effect of using the crow-sourcing method. Nonetheless, their algorithm promoted this page for me, so I read through the written text side-by-side with the transcription, approved the work, and submitted it for review. A job well done, now on to the next one!

After looking through the other campaigns, I find myself in the uncompleted section of the Clara Barton papers. After consulting the “How to Transcribe” page, I try my hand at deciphering Clara Barton’s handwriting.

I did it! I transcribed a part of the collection, and it was a very engaging piece of text that may make some want to try their hand and the next page…and the next…and the next.

In addition to transcribing and reviewing, there is also the option to add tags to the document. For instance, in the example above, Clara Barton is writing about how you would not pardon somebody for a crime they did not commit because that implies that they ever committed the crime. Rather, you should publicly vindicate that person. Personally, I think an appropriate tag for this page might be something like “pardon” or “criminal justice.” Adding this meta-data allows for the information to more easily accessible and get in front of people who may find this particular excerpt interesting, such as a criminology major.

The Library of Congress’s “By the People” initiative is a very interesting and engaging way to encourage history education through technology. Because users are not required to do anything (aside from giving their best effort at transcribing accurately), the initiative is truly geared towards anybody who has an interest in one of their collections. Whether you are on your lunch break, or researching a topic that has yet to be archived, the By the People page might be the best place for you to spend your time as a virtual volunteer!

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